LOS ANGELES, CA—With big tracking rooms back in fashion and analog recording enjoying something of a resurgence, the market has apparently never been better for restorers of vintage mixing consoles.
“We have been selling classic desks going on 22 years now,” says Mike Nehra, co-owner of Vintage King Audio. “They have incrementally increased in value and have outpaced the stock market for many of these 22 years.”
For example, offers Nehra, “Back in 1993, vintage Neve 1073 modules sold for $700. Now, in 2014, they sell for $7,500 when properly serviced and with a warranty. Figure out the ROI.”
As for the most sought-after brands and models, says Nehra, “Pretty much any vintage class A or class AB: Seventies-era Neve 80 series or Broadcast variants—BCM10, 8014, 8028, 8058, 8068, 8078; any vintage API or later Legacy models; any Helios models; SSL G and G+ models; Trident A range and 80 series models; and Quad 8.”
Endless Analog’s CLASP system helped introduce younger engineers to the joys of recording to tape, says Paul Cox, a Los Angeles-based service and commissioning engineer at SSL for many years before founding Paul J. Cox Studio Systems, specializing in facility technical design and installation. “It made people unwrap the Studers, to be used with either a used [SSL] J or K [series] or a vintage Neve.”
While large SSL desks of more recent vintage are coveted, they can be, well, too large. “A majority of the Js and Ks were 72, 80, 96 inputs. Eighty is too big for most people, because they don’t want to spend $3,500 every month on power and air conditioning,” says Cox, noting that a 48-input chassis is more preferable. Consequently, SSL modules may be found for $2,000, while the price differential between large and small used consoles has become negligible.
Cox’s clients obviously prefer to find a vintage desk in the best-possible condition, so his refurbishments might be as simple as re-capping and some switch replacements. Substituting Atomic Instrument power supplies for the original units may also be advisable, he adds.
Beyond that, a variety of modifications can realign the desk for modern workflows, including per-channel 48 VDC phantom power and direct outputs, which Cox added on Trent Reznor’s Neve BCM10, as well as enabling tape returns to input channels, which he also added to the rare Neve, purchased through Vintage King, for Michael Marquart’s Windmark facility. Plus, he says, “In this day and age, you’ve got four iPods, a Mac out and a secondary Mac out, a DVD, cable TV. So in a studio situation, the monitoring side of it definitely warrants modification.”
But Cox is careful to make age-appropriate mods, exactly matching legending and the patina of the paint, and using waxed lacing cord to match the original wiring looms. “My career is more like that of a museum curator than active, present- day technician,” he laughs.
To any restoration, Bruce Millett, CEO/president of Desk Doctor in Burbank, CA, specializing in used SSLs, sometimes adds a chassis modification. “We’ve had a few consoles where we’ve done a custom center space—a 26-inch bucket where the DAW section can sit,” he reports.
“I advise people not to modify the actual main electronics too much. Why would you buy an SSL then try to make it sound like a Neve, or viceversa? If it’s for your own personal space, of course, do whatever you like, and we’ll be happy to accommodate it. But if you are in a commercial space, it becomes even more important to keep it fairly true to what it was,” Millett advises.
As for desirability, he says, used Neve V and VR consoles are generally not as attractive. “They’re not as maintainable, which is why the value has plummeted.” A 72-channel VR with Flying Faders from a renowned L.A. facility sold for just $20,000 a few years ago, he reports.
Millett, who says he has sold 17 used consoles this year, including a Helios and some small Neve desks, believes the market is picking up: “There seems to have been a fairly good shift in people’s wishes to get back into a proper studio environment, as opposed to doing everything in the box.”
Spotting an opportunity in this shifting market, Millett even purchased a console manufacturer and relocated it to L.A. this year. “The console is called the Custom Series 75. It’s based on a vintage Neve, made under license from Neve. The whole channel path is 1081 input, 1081 four-band EQ, 1073 outputs, all class A.”
Nehra notes that a Neve console loaded with desirable 1073, 1084, 1081, 31102 or 31105 modules— which “are at the highest prices we have ever experienced,” he says—are in very high demand and command a premium, especially when properly serviced to the standards that Vintage King offers. “The investment in the servicing maximizes the value of the desk, making it reliable and once again a pleasure to work on for years to come,” he says.
Paul J. Cox Studio Systems
Vintage King Audio